New Jersey Appellate Division Overturns Jury Verdict for Nursing Home ‘Whistleblower’

In January of 2008, James Hitesman—a nurse who working for Bridgeway Senior Healthcare, a nursing home in Bridgewater, N.J.—sent an email to fellow Bridgeway employees.  He reported that he was noticing a high rate of infection among the facility’s patients.  Bridgeway’s medical director disagreed, replying as such in a return email.  But Hitesman was not convinced.

Using a fake name, he contacted town health officials with his concerns—then, using another fake name, he also contacted state and county officials about Bridgewater’s infection rates.  Eventually, he got in touch with several news outlets to further expose his story.  And he faxed confidential patient information to one reporter—though intending to fully delete any confidential information.  But he failed to remove some patients’ room numbers, which, inevitably, led to the end of his clandestine campaign.

He was fired.  He says he lost his job because he was a whistleblower—because he reported improper patient care.  His employer says that Hitesman was fired because he misappropriated the confidential records.  According to Bridgeway’s attorney, Craig Provorny, the company had no problem with Hitesman contacting the government.

“They’re a top-notch facility,” said Provorny.  “Their goal is, if there is something truly going on, then let the governmental agencies assist them…Their goal is just to make sure that no one’s getting sick.”

But in March of 2012, a jury agreed with Hitesman, finding that Bridgewater violated the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), a law purposed with protecting workers in whistleblower settings similar to this one.

Then, last week, the Appellate Division overturned the decision.  According to that court, the nurse “lacked an objectively reasonable belief that Bridgewater’s conduct constituted improper quality of patient care or violated public policy.”

Hitesman and his attorney intend on asking the New Jersey Supreme Court to take another look at the case.

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